UMBC across the sea: violence in London

Anjali DasSarma is currently studying abroad in England. The views expressed in this article are the views of the author.

As many of you may have heard, there was a terrorist attack on the London Bridge. Without going into too many excruciating details, a man with a fake bomb, who was later killed by the police, stabbed five people, killing two. It’s true that around Christmas time here security is heightened, but it’s also close to the Dec. 12 special elections. So many people checked in and I got so many updates about the frightening events going on not so far away from where I was. I had forgotten what it was like to live in a place with crime, as London’s violent crime rate is far below that of most cities in the United States.

All of that comfortable forgetfulness changed yesterday afternoon. Yes, it was terrifying, though King’s College was luckily about 15 minutes away from London Bridge, and my friends and I were safe. Yesterday’s event got me thinking about how many more homicides I hear about in Baltimore on a daily basis — and how many attacks there are —  so many of which are barely mentioned in regional news. When the terrorist incident was first mentioned, I was shocked, because in all the frenzy it was first reported as a shooting. That’s practically unheard of here. Of course I assumed at first that the perpetrator was the shooter. It later came out that the only shots fired were by the police. And I just kept thinking about how many more could have died if the attacker had a gun. 

The amount of vetting and effort that has to be put in to just get a license for a handgun here is incredible. There are only five guns per 100 people, compared to 120 in the US. It makes me feel so much safer. Though violent crime still exists here in the form of knife attacks, it’s rare and a very different scene. This is not to say that knife crime isn’t terrifying, but the number of people who can be killed is smaller compared to a gun. The number of people killed in the US using automatic rifles is in a short period of time in a word, horrific.

Getting all the alerts reminded me of the school shootings and attacks on places of worship that have occurred. And many of us, I’m sure, know someone who has lost loved ones to gun attacks. It includes even people in my high school in Howard County. But knowing that here in London very few people can own firearms and no one can own automatic weapons makes me feel so much safer. Though as a caveat, clearly London is also the victim of global terrorism issues.

As a student journalist, the first thing I wanted to do was to jump up and go to the scene and take photos and interview people there. However, as a study abroad student, I have certain limitations. This is not my country, and to a certain extent, I cannot put myself in harm’s way because my visa is for studying. The UK laws also limits exposure and publicity of terrorists and violent criminals. One of the most reassuring things about yesterday was that the terrorist was stopped by some brave citizens, without whom more people would have been hurt. This may also have been possible because he was using a knife rather than a firearm.

One of the things that struck me the most was the national mobility surrounding the event in London. There was no panic, and the city’s contingency plans went smoothly into effect. There can be some desensitizing that inadvertently occurs because we have so much gun violence in the United States. But the routine violence in Baltimore and the lives senselessly lost there make us numb. Lives everywhere matter, just as much as they do here in London. It is so difficult to fight becoming desensitized, but even frightening events and lives lost deserve to be remembered and fought for, not just forgotten. We need to find a way to make people safer.